Duluth’s Palestine & Keystone Masonic Lodges (through 1922)

Of the immense number of fraternal organizations that now flourish in St. Louis County (Duluth.alone has at least forty), only two were established during the pioneer period, both of them Masonic bodies, the Palestine Lodge, No. 79, A. F. and A. M., and Keystone Chapter, No. 20, R. A. M. Palestine Lodge, No. 79, A. F. and A. M.-The first to be organized, of course, was the Palestine Lodge, No. 79. Quoting from T. W. Hugo’s interesting and well-written history of the “Fraternal Orders of Duluth,” it appears that “in the address of ‘M. W., C. W.Nash, 33° G. M., St. Paul,’ as his name was printed on the title-page of the ‘Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, of Minnesota, at its Seventeenth Grand Annual Communication, in the City of St. Paul, Commencing January 11th, A. D. 1870, A. L. 5870,'” it was stated that during the year “five dispensations 221for the organization of new lodges” had been issued, the first being to “Palestine Lodge, at Duluth, January 29, 1869.” The other lodges were at Henderson, Alexandria, Howard Lake, and Money Creek, some, including Duluth, being referred to as “settlements … a short time since uninhabited.” The dispensation granted on January 29, 1869, was to brothers: J. B. Culver, w. m.; J. D. Ray, s. w.; Franklin W. Ely, j. w.; therefore earlier meetings of projectors were held, but the “first recorded meeting of Palestine Lodge, U. D., A. F. and A. M.,” was held “at the residence of Bro. Mayhew” on April 10th, 1869. The venue of the meeting is stated to have been “just on the other side of the canal, across Minnesota Point as it is today.” Carey makes reference to the building, stating that it was built by Nettleton and Culver in May, 1859, “on the Nettleton claim about on the site of the olcd log election-shanty,” so as to provide quarters for the United States land office, then only recently removed from Buchanan; and for that purpose it was used until May, 1861, when Marvin and Luce became register and receiver, respectively, the business then being transferred to Mr. Luce’s warehouse. The vacated building next became a dwelling house, Judge John Dunphy then occupying it; in 1862 it was used for school purposes, “the first public school for the Duluth School District No. 5” being “kept” in it, stated Carey. Later, in 1865, it “was also used as the headquarters of Mr. Mayhew and Prof. H. H.

Eames and others upon their return from their explorations of the north shore of the lake and Vermilion country.” It therefore follows that that was the building from which transpired the sensational and alluring rumors to the effect that the explorers had discovered gold in the Vermilion country, rumors which spread like a fire in a pine forest in the dryest season and the highest wind, so that the building in which the first recorded meeting of Palestine Lodge, No. 79, was held had quite an important and interesting history prior to that important happening. For some time prior to 1869 the house was used as a residence by Mr. Mayhew.

The principal business transacted at the initial Masonic meeting, that of April 10, 1869, was the election of officers, the voting establishing the following as original officers of Palestine Lodge: H. H. Eames, senior warden; G. G. Barnum, junior warden; A. M. Weller, treasurer; Louis Berkleman, secretary; and Horace Saxton, tyler. At the same meeting an expenditure of $40, “to procure forty aprons, a set of jewels and working tools and a ballot box,” was authorized.

The next meeting was held on April 16, 1869, “at the residence of Bro. W. Littleton,” “a little above what was then known as Buffalo Creek,” which building, in relation to buildings now in existence, “would be about back of the Metropolitan building.” The Nettleton dwelling-house was subsequently removed to the southwest corner of Second Avenue East and First Street, where for some time it was known as the Ready house.

The first Masonic meeting “held in a regular hall” was that of July 31, 1869. The “hall” was the upper floor of a two-story frame house situated at northeast corner of East Superior Street and Second Avenue East, the lower portion of the building being used as a saloon and later as a furniture store by Berringer and Potter. Mr. Hugo describes the fittings of the first Masonic hall thus: The lodge room itself was as crude and primitive an affair as one could well conceive. The altar was a dry-goods box, and two of the principal jewels were made of tin, cut out by Bro. Walter Van Brunt, and presented 222by him to the lodge on the occasion of his first visit, which occurred at this meeting. These jewels were afterwards displaced, to make room for a more pretentious set presented by a New Brunswick, New Jersey, lodge, … ; when the old jewels were literally, as well as figuratively, thrown over among the rubbish, from whence they were afterwards brought to light by Bro. J. H. Logie, while hunting around the vault in the old Hayes Building, at the time of moving to the new hall. They were covered with plaster and dirt of all kinds, and by him straightened out, -neatly placed on black velvet, framed, and re-presented to the lodge, by whose direction they were hung up in the lodge room as a memento of days long gone by. A handsome altar, the workmanship of Bro. James A. Olds, later displaced the old one and is still in use.

At the meeting of July 31st, the fees for the degrees were fixed at $30, and meetings were held regularly in the “hall” until July, 1871.

On September 25, 1869, the “first Masonic work of conferring degrees took place,” the first “entered apprentice made in Duluth” being Bro. E. H. Foster. On October 2, 1869, Bros. G. Berkleman and J. R. Carey were initiated.

In December, financial difficulties were reported, and the finance committee “negotiated and renewed a loan for $350.00, less $10.50 discount, for which an individual note had been given, payable three months hence, at 12% per annum.” It was reported “that Bro. Ray had loaned the lodge $50, and a number of the brothers had donated $125.00 to the funds of the lodge.” At the same meeting Bro. Hayes Mayhew, a member of the Ancient Landmark Lodge, of St. Paul, was passed to the degree of .a Fellow Craft in due form, “on his request and that of his lodge, the first work done in that degree.” On December 7th Bro. Mayhew “was raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason, being also the first Master Mason made in Duluth.” On December 18, 1869, “it was resolved that Palestine Lodge, U. D., apply at the next communication of the Grand Lodge of the State of Minnesota for a charter, in lieu of a dispensation, for a lodge to be known as Palestine Lodge, No. .. , of Duluth, Minnesota.” Accordingly, the Grand Lodge was “duly petitioned by the following named brothers”: J. B. Culver, J. D. Ray, F. W. Ely, J. F. McLaren, Jr., A. N. Seip, W. Van Brunt, G. G. Barnum, H. Oswald, C. Markell, J. S. Campbell, J. G. Parker, E. E. Collins, H. Webb, H. A. Luebbers, W.-H. Feller, F. Bergquist, H. G. Finkle, A. J. Sawyer, S. G. Trumbull, and Edgar Nash.

The charter was granted on January 12, 1870, and appointed “Joshua B. Culver to be Master, … J. D. Ray to be Senior Warden …and … F. W. Ely to be Junior Warden” of Palestine Lodge, No. 79. The names of John G. Parker and Andrew J. Sawyer, Duluthians who both signed the petition for charter, do not appear on the Grand Lodge list of charter members of Palestine Lodge. There are other differences, but “as far as can be found out” the original twenty-one members of the local lodge on January 1, 1870, were: J. B. Culver James D. Ray, Franklin W. Ely, John F. McLaren, Jr., Albert N. Seip, Walter Van Brunt, George G. Barnum, Herman Oswald, Clinton Markell, James S. Campbell, John G. Parker, Edward E. Collins, Harvey Webb, William H. Feller, Francis Bergquist, Henry G. Finkle, Andrew J. Sawyer, Stiles S.

Trumbull, Edgar Nash, Louis Berkleman, and Henry A. Luebbers.

On Thursday, February 23, 1870, “W. Bro. Jas. S. Campbell, as proxy for the Grand Master, instituted the Lodge and installed the officers thereof.” They were: J. B. Culver, W. M.; J. D. Ray, S. W.; F. WV. Ely, J. W.; J. F. McLaren, Jr. Treas.; A. N!. Seip, Sec.; W.Van Brunt, S. D.; G. G. Barnum, J. D.; H. Oswald, S. S.; C. Markell, J. S., and M. Horan, Tyler.

The charter, i. e., the parchment, was lost for a year, and for the ceremony of installation, a duplicate was used. The original charter was stolen from the sleigh of Edgar Nash, during the night he spent at Grindstone, a stage-stop on the Military Road, while on his way from St. Paul to Duluth, the thief being attracted, evidently, by the “cylindrical tin box” in which the treasured, but not negotiable, charter was placed “for safe keeping.” A young man of the place was suspected and a year later was directly charged with the theft.

He produced the parchment, explaining that “he had got it from the Indians then during the summer.” On March 7, 1870, the first election of officers, under the charter, was held. J. S. Gampbell was elected worshipful master and “the newly-elected officers” were installed by “Worshipful Bro. J. B. Culver, at a festival communication held on March 14, 1870.” It was “highly successful, eighty invited guests participating.” The first opportunity for the “practical application of the teachings of Masonry,” soon occurred. On September 5, 1870, the lodge received its first call for charity, and “a donation of $40” was made to a “distressed” brother.

The first Masonic funeral held in Duluth was on. October 30, 1870, when the body of Bro. Louis Berkelman, the first secretary of the lodge was interred. The “funeral lodge” assembled at 10 a. m., sixteen members and seventy-five visiting brothers being present.

At 12 noon, the brethren “proceeded to the Bay ‘Dock, on Minnesota Point, where the body had been brought from Superior City, Wisconson, and escorted it to the Lake Dock of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad … where the honors of Masonry were duly paid the remains of Bro. Louis Berkelman.” On January 1, 1871, Palestine Lodge had a total membership of thirty-two. The officers were reported as: Edgar Nash, W. M.; Walter Van Brunt, S. W.; Albert S. Chase, J. W.; Albert N. Seip, Secy.

On July 3, 1871, “a committee to secure another hall” was appointed and on September 4th, 1871, reported “that they could secure the upper story of the Hayes Block at a yearly rental of $550.00. Immediately, $1,144.00 was subscribed to furnish the hall.” On January 1, 1872, it was reported that Palestine Lodge then had sixty members, but the following year “dark days … settled on Duluth, and affected the lodge so that demits and assessments became the order, instead of initiations and a surplus.” In order “to preserve the credit of the lodge,” Bros. J. B. Culver, Jas. A. Olds and A. M. Barnum were, on March 2, 1874, constituted a committee styled a “Common Building and Relief Fund.” They were “to report from time to time.” “So great was the general depression that from October 27, 1873, to March 16, 1875, not a degree was conferred, but the brethren were not at all discouraged; they accepted the inevitable and set about making the best use of their time.” On September 6, 1875, W. Bro.

H. N. Setzer “delivered an address on ‘Duties and Obligations of Masons,’ but even such an encouraging address could not bring work,” and the membership decreased fifteen in that year. In 1876, there was a slight increase, “showing that the bottom had been reached and that the tide of fortune was on the turn.” 224So, the lodge passed through the dark period and afterwards went ever forward to ever-increasing prosperity and usefulness.

Keystone Chapter, No. 20, R. A. M., Duluth

The Keystone Chapter, No. 20, Royal Arch Masons, of Duluth, Minnesota, came into being on November 24, 1871, upon which date a dispensation was issued by the Most Excellent Grand High Priest G. W. Merrill, Grand High Priest of the State of Minnesota, “for a chapter at Duluth, Minnesota, to be called Keystone Chapter, U. D.” The first meeting, tnder the authority of this dispensation, was held “at Masonic Hall in the Hayes’ Block,” on December 1, 1871, when the following named “regular companion Royal Arch Masons” assembled: J. J. Hull, W. W. Spaulding, J. A. Olds, Edgar Nash, T. A. Olmstead, A. S. Chase, F. W. Ely, Charles Lord, Dr. E. E.

Collins, E. A. Sylvester and John H. La Vaque. “A convocation of Royal Arch Masons was opened and the dispensation was read and accepted.” In the dispensation J. J. Hull was named high priest, W. W. Spaulding, king, and James A. Olds, scribe. After the observance of “the usual formalities” and some congratulatory proceedings, which the uniqueness of the occasion called for, the first petitions for degrees were received. They were from “Bros. Herman Oswald, George Berkelman, Edward M. Bloomer, Joshua B. Culver, John R. Carey, Alexander Schultz, Walter Van Brunt and Thomas Harvey. The report of the committee to which the petitions were referred was made at that convocation, “the petitioners being wellknown.” Ballot was “then spread” upon the several petitions and “the ballot being clear,” the petitioners were declared duly elected.

It was not considered that there was anything illegal in thus balloting on the same day as that upon which the petitions were presented, as “every Royal Arch Mason in the town was present.” The fees for the degrees were fixed at fifty dollars, and the receipts of that initial convocation amount to $120.00.

Messrs. Hull, Spaulding and Olds constituted the original grand council and the “first team, under the dispensation, consisted of George Berkelmann, Herman Oswald and Alexander Schultz. Companion T. A. Olmstead was the first secretary, A. S. Chase was captain of the host, John H. La Vaque was principal sojourner and F. W. Ely, royal arch captain.

The next convocation was held on December 6, 1871, when petitions of Barton Atkins and W. H. Feller were received. The first degree conferred by Keystone Chapter was that of Mark Master, Herman Oswald being so accepted at that convocation. Mark Master and Past Master degrees were conferred upon Alexander Schultz and George Berkelmann on December 23, 1871, and a week later the degree of Most Excellent Master was conferred upon Herman Oswald, George Berkelmann and Alex. Schultz.

On January 3, 1872, Bros. Herman Oswald, George Berkelmann and Alex. Schultz were exalted to the “August Degree of the Royal Arch”; and Companion Nash “was appointed proxy for the chapter” to represent it “at the Grand Chapter” and to “present its work for inspection.” Charter was granted on January 10, 1872. It was signed by G. W. Merrill, grand high priest, and W. S. Combs, grand recorder.

The first record of Keystone Chapter No. 20 bears date of February 14, 1872, that being presumably when the first meeting was held after charter had been granted.

Vol. 1-15 225- The first election was held on that date and resulted in the following accepting office: J. J. Hull, H. P.; W. W. Spaulding, K.; James A. Olds, S.; F. W. Ely, C. of H.; John H. LaVaque, P. S.; M. O. Messer, R. A. C.; T. A. Olmstead, M. of 3rd V.; Charles Lord, M. of 2nd V.; Alex. Schultz, M. of 1st V.; Herman Oswald, Treas.; E. A. Sylvester, Sec’y.

The first degrees conferred after receipt of charter were to Bros. Bloomer, W. Van Brunt and Feller, “who were exalted to the august degree of Royal Arch Mason,” on March 13, 1872.

Two weeks later a set of veils was purchased at an expense of $72.00. Companion Walter Van Brunt presented to the chapter “the three brass squares now in use and always used since the second year,” 1872, Companion Edgar Nash “providing the Crow, Pick-ax and Spade.” On June 12, 1872, Bros. Gow, Culver and Atkins were exalted to the august degree of Royal Arch Mason. Regular meetings were held throughout the year, and on December 11, 1872, occurred the annual election of officers, the following taking office: J. J. Hull, H. P.; James A. Olds, K.; F. W. Ely, S.; John H. LaVaque, C. of H.; E. M. Bloomer, P. S.; T. A. Olmstead, R. A. C.; Walter Van Brunt, Secretary; Herman Oswald, Treasurer.

The first death among members of the chapter was that of Companion Lewis Larson, on November 28, 1873. He was “a grocer of the firm of Olsen and Larson, on the corner of First Street and First Avenue.” An indication of the general financial stringency is found in the instructions given Walter Van Brunt, secretary, on January 28, 1874, “to purchase a half-dozen blank demits.” At the regular annual meeting of that year there were not sufficient members present to form a quorum, and consequently elections were not held, but “under a dispensation from the Grand High Priest, the chapter … proceeded to the election of officers for the year 1875” on January 16, 1875. Walter Van Brunt was again secretary, and although there were no regular monthly meetings for part of 1876, the chapter did not again fail to hold elections at the end of each year.

Up to the end of 1876, forty-two persons had been admitted into membership of Keystone Chapter No. 20, although the actual strength in that year was only thirty-two. (It has since increased more than twenty fold.)


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.